If Harrington could turn back time …
Al Harrington is 33 years old now, and seemingly on his last leg in the NBA. He serves as a marker for veteran Pacers fans, for whom it seems like just a few years ago he was “Baby Al” and the virtual foster child of his Pacers teammate, Antonio Davis.
Harrington was in Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday for the Pacers’ game with Washington, his seventh team and his eighth stop in a 15-season career. He’s sitting out with a sore right knee that is receiving injections in an attempt to alleviate pain in the cartilage, part of the ongoing battle to deal with an issue that threatened his career just over a year ago.
He hopes to be playing in another week. He also hopes he’ll be able to play beyond this season, but makes no promises. Regardless of his future, he shakes his head at the past.
“It’s amazing how fast it went by,” Harrington said before Friday’s game. “I swear, I was just in (the Pacers’) locker room. Everything between then and now is just a blur. The seven years here, I can remember all of that. But from there to here, what the hell happened?”
What happened is that Harrington unwittingly traded seeming stability in Indianapolis for a journeyman’s career that sent him criss-crossing the country in search of what he voluntarily gave up. Drafted as an 18-year-old out of high school with the 25th pick in the 1998 draft, he progressed from end-of-bench rookie who lived with Davis’ family and was constantly the butt of jokes by the veteran players to runner-up in the Sixth Man of the Year voting in 2004. He averaged in double figures his fourth, fifth and sixth seasons with the Pacers, once dropping 40 points off the bench against Atlanta at The Fieldhouse in December of 2002.
Problem was, he was stuck on the bench behind Ron Artest at small forward. He also was primarily a low-post scoring threat at the time, and Jermaine O’Neal had first dibs on that job. Seemingly destined for a reserve role for seasons to come, he asked team president Donnie Walsh for a trade.
To this day, it’s his greatest regret. It’s the same sentiment now voiced by Davis, who also sought a trade in search of a starting opportunity and was dealt to Toronto, but now wishes he had stayed put.
“It’s one of those things, you don’t know how good you got it until you’re gone,” he said. “This is a consistent organization that always did everything the right way. You kind of take those things for granted. But I didn’t know.
“I tell people all the time, I could have been a lifetime Pacer. I think I had enough people here who liked me, I could have been like Jeff Foster. But I wanted to test my wings and see if they could fly.”
Harrington says his agent told him the Pacers were working on a trade with Cleveland, which would have allowed him to play with LeBron James. Walsh says he doesn’t recall any such deal. Regardless, the trade was eventually made with Atlanta, for Stephen Jackson. Harrington says if he had known he would wind up with a non-contending team, he would have said never mind.
He averaged 17.5 and 18.6 points in two seasons in Atlanta, and then was brought back to the Pacers with the trade exception that had been acquired when Artest was traded to Sacramento.
Harrington lasted just 36 games for the Pacers the second time around. A nightclub incident involving Jackson had turned the fan base against him, and this time Jackson wanted out. He, Harrington and Sarunas Jasikevicius were traded to Golden State for Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Ike Diogu and Keith McLeod.
Harrington lasted two seasons and five games with Golden State, at which time the Warriors granted his trade request. He keeps the reason for that request off the record, but he wasn’t alone in his desire to get out. Walsh, then the general manager in New York, made the deal for him. Harrington averaged 20.7 points his first season there, and then 17.7. He then signed with Denver as a free agent, played two seasons there, and was traded to Orlando. A staph infection resulting from surgery on his meniscus in April of 2012 threatened his career and his life. He played just 10 games for the Magic last season, left on the bench most of the season by a team playing for the future rather than the present.
He hopes to coax at least one more season from his right knee. He averaged 7.9 points in seven games before the soreness developed.
Harrington plans to move his family, which now includes daughters aged 4 and 2, to Dallas over the summer. O’Neal is building a home there as well. It’s an experiment, really. He wants to live in Florida, but his wife didn’t like it there. He wants to be somewhere warm, for his aching bones. His parents have remained on the far north side of Indianapolis since he first joined the Pacers, but might move as well.
He stays in touch with former Pacers teammates Davis, Jackson, O’Neal, Jamaal Tinsley, Jonathan Bender, Derrick McKey and Reggie Miller. He’s also close with current Pacer s guard C.J. Watson, a teammate in Golden State. They have both lived in Las Vegas in the off-season, and their daughters are best friends.
Fifteen seasons, seven teams, eight stops. It’s been a long, strange odyssey for Harrington. One he’s happy about, but one he wouldn’t mind doing over again – knowing what he knows now.